Airdrie curler Aaron Sluchinski came the closest he’s ever come to qualifying for the Tim Horton’s Brier national men's curling championships last week, making it to the final of the Alberta men’s provincial championships before falling to the perennially strong Team Koe.
Sluchinski played as the third for the Edmonton-based Team Appelman, alongside Ted Appelman, Nathan Connolly, and Eric Richard. The Boston Pizza Cup was held in Grande Prairie from Jan. 3 to 9, featuring the top men’s curling rinks from across the province.
“It went really well,” Sluchinski said of his ninth trip to Alberta’s premier men’s curling bonspiel. “We made it to the final, so we had the chance to get to the Brier. It’s a pretty slim chance when you’re playing against Koe, but it was a chance nonetheless. I got to play a few games on TV, which is always fun, and I had the chance to play with some guys I’ve never played with before, so that was a good experience as well.”
According to Sluchinski, the opportunity to compete on Team Appelman came at the last minute, after two of that rink’s usual members tested positive for COVID-19.
Having curled with Richard before, Sluchinski said his former teammate recommended him as one of the two last-minute replacements to meet up with the team in Grande Prairie.
“They called me to come join them for the provincials, because the other two wouldn’t have been able to make it until mid-week,” he explained. “I joined them, got to play 10 games, and it was good competition.”
Despite the hasty rebuild, Team Appelman recorded a strong 5-2 record in the round robin, qualifying them for the knockout stages. From there, they overcame Team Sturmay 7-1 in the quarterfinals, before narrowly edging Team Harty 7-6 in the semi-finals to book a match against Team Koe in the gold-medal match on Jan. 9
“We just grinded well,” said Sluchinski. “We made the right shots when we had to. We weren’t playing our best, but we found ways to get enough wins to get to that final.”
Unfortunately for Sluchinski, he said Team Koe – led by two-time world champ Kevin Koe – proved too strong in the gold-medal game, beating Team Appelman 8-4.
“Koe’s team was just too good that day,” he said.
Having competed at the Boston Pizza Cup several times before, Sluchinski acknowledged the 2022 version of the competition did not have the same level of atmosphere as previous years. Due to COVID-related health protocols, the venue was limited to a 50-per-cent capacity and other restrictions were in effect as well.
A cold snap province-wide, meanwhile, further limited what would have otherwise been packed bleachers throughout the week.
“It was super cold and those restrictions aren’t the greatest for fan atmosphere, so a lot of people avoided it,” Sluchinski said. “Some of these events get quite a few fans, and usually the Boston Pizza Cup gets good [crowds]. But this time there wasn’t a pile of people there.”
With the men's provincials in the rear-view mirror, Sluchinski said he will shift focus to the mixed-doubles provincial championships, which will be held in Edmonton from Feb. 16 to 20. He and teammate Brittany Tran of Calgary will look to defend their crown after winning the Alberta mixed-doubles championship last year.
“We’re the defending champs, so hopefully we can put up another strong showing there,” he said, adding he enjoys the different nature of mixed-doubles curling.
“I like to do things quick and be a little more dynamic, so it fits in with my personality a little more,” he said. “They’re quick games with a lot of moving around.”
Outside of provincial bonspiels, Sluchinski said he keeps active by participating in the weekly Super League at the Airdrie Curling Club. While he is often the highest-profile competitor in that league, his team is currently in sixth place with a 7-4 record.
“We’ve missed a few games due to illness and stuff, but it’s always fun to get out there and play with friends once a week,” he said.